Marathon Training: Race Day
For all those who'll be pounding the pavements on Sunday, Dr. Nick has your race day preparation tips!
Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. You should aim to wake up at least three hours prior to the race start, which with a 10am start should not pose any problems (try planning sleep for a 1am start)! The reason for the early wake-up call is so you can have a proper breakfast; no, I don’t mean a fry-up! This should be a carbohydrate rich meal in order to maximise your glycogen stores, which would have definitely reduced overnight.
As you head to the venue, remember to stay relaxed but focused as well. Do whatever you’ve found works for you; see our post on psychological preparedness.
Make sure you stay wrapped-up, as you don’t want to be using valuable energy just to keep warm. If you have to ditch your warm kit to head to the start line, a bin bag with holes will do the trick. The ever dashing Bradley Cooper has demonstrated this for us.
Warm-up appropriately: do some very light running followed by some active stretching in order to get your legs primed for the race. If you’re thirsty, have a maximum of 200-300mls of water no less than 15mins before you start. If you want something to eat, have either a low GI carbohydrate up to 30mins prior to starting, or a gel just before you start.
3-2-1 and you’re off! The adrenaline surge will be huge and your natural reaction will be to follow the pace that everyone is setting, which will be slow to start (due to the number of runners) and then uncontrollably fast, way quicker than your target pace. You have to fight this urge and try and get into your target pace as soon as you can (note: I don’t think I’ve ever managed to do this, but try you must!). This is where a GPS watch comes in very handy.
Fuelling through the event is always tricky and very personal. A question I get asked a lot; “should I use gels?” Well, whatever you do, I wouldn’t start experimenting during the marathon, as the last thing you need is to start getting abdominal cramping and the urge to use the toilet. Certainly consuming gels will improve performance by prolonging glycogen depletion, but again this is all dependent on your personal energy expenditure.
The most important bit of advice I have to offer is that you should drink to thirst. This goes against a lot of the advice you will find online, which will stress the importance of drinking loads of sports/electrolyte drinks during your race. The slower you are, the less fluid you will lose and the less you will need to drink. Drink too much and you can end up with water intoxication (Exercise Induced Hyponatraemia). Sports drinks, even with electrolytes, do not prevent this in any way, despite what various online sources will tell you:
“Run when you can,
Walk when you have to,
Crawl if you must;
Just never give up”
- Dean Karnazes
This is your mantra during those dark moments that will definitely come at some point and very likely, as you hit your wall. All you’ll want to do is give up but you have to fight this, as the feeling you will have when you finish will be phenomenal. I myself have two strategies: the first is to think of something completely unrelated like ‘when do I need to change the bed sheets?’, or ‘I should take the rubbish out tomorrow’ etc. The second is to embrace the pain and use it as fuel for your brain and your muscles.
The only thing that should make you quit, is a significant injury. How you know what constitutes a significant injury is harder to assess in a race, due to the adrenaline and the desire to finish. If you get pain which is out of proportion with what you would expect, stop in at one of the first-aid stations to get checked.
On finishing, definitely enjoy the moment, but you’ll have this huge attachment to the area around the finishing line. You’ve just spent the last few hours with your heart rate up, pumping adrenaline through your veins and suddenly you stop. Don’t hang around. Wrap up in your foil blanket and get to your drop-bag asap The longer you linger, the harder it is to get going again.
Have some food asap and remember, you need lots of carbohydrate and protein, ideally in a 4:1 ratio. A good idea is to have a protein shake ready to go at the end. Make sure you rehydrate, but as always, you don’t need to start pouring lots of fluid down your throat, just have some fluid with you all the time and drink to thirst. You deserve a drink for sure, but take care as alcohol will reduce your body’s ability to re-hydrate.
Above all enjoy it and know that you’ll be walking with your head held high afterwards.
“The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well”
- Pierre de Coubertin
This blog is written by friend of Neat, Dr Nick Ambatzis MB BS, MSc (SEM), MRCGP.
Nick is a General Practitioner specialising in Sports and Exercise Medicine. He completed his medical degree at University College London Medical School in 2002. Nick worked for almost ten years as a junior surgeon and spent three years in Trauma & Orthopaedics. He attained a Masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine and subsequently trained as a GP practising in Paddington.
From an early age, Nick has been both a keen cross-country runner and water-polo player, having competed at college level. Nick is also an accomplished ultra-marathon runner, having competed in many cross-country and cross-alpine races, ranging from 50-100 miles. He has also been a Crossfit and Crossfit Endurance coach.